Schools have taken their fight for fairer funding to the most famous front door in the country – 10 Downing Street.
Fourteen headteachers escorted 15 children to London on Tuesday (October 18), where they delivered a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, pleading for money to help ease the funding stranglehold that has a grip on the county’s schools.
Accompanied by several West Sussex MPs, the headteachers were: Jules White (Tanbridge House), Shelley Dutson (St Mary’s Primary), Nick Wergan (Steyning Grammar School), Becky Linford (Upper Beeding Primary), Peter Woodman (The Weald, Billingshurst), Julia Carey (North Mundham Primary), Dawn Martin (Gossops Green Primary, Crawley), Anthony White (Pound Hill Juniors, Crawley), Grahame Robson (Manor Green College, Crawley), Yvonne Watkins (Bourne Community College), Nick Taunt (Bishop Luffa, Chichester), Dave Carter (St Philip Howard Catholic High School, Barnham), Rob Carter (St Paul’s Catholic College, Burgess Hill) and Mark Anstiss (Felpham Community College).
The children were: Joshua Bundock, Evie Delahunt, Poppy Pringle, Sophie Taylor, Jessie Wilkins, Ben Carter, Alice Coe, Stephen Gearing, Leila Karim, Taylor Woolford, Sibil Sabu and Theveenah Balasubramanium.
Mrs Martin, Mrs Linford, Mr Wergan and Mr Robson were chosen to hand over the letter at the black door with a number of children.
The trip to Downing Street came after more than a year of campaigning to see West Sussex schools given a fairer share of the funding pot being dished out by the government.
As things stand, £4,198 per pupil is given to each school – £402 per pupil less than the national average, and £1,800 per pupil less than the amount given to some London borough schools. By comparison, East Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire receive £4,443.58, £4,301.54 and £4,269.41 per pupil respectively.
Every headteacher in the county signed up to the Worth Less? campaign for fairer funding, with the initial aim of persuading the government to introduce a fairer system while providing ‘poorer’ schools with an interim payment to help them make ends meet until that system was put in place.
Backed by support from the county’s MPs, who put pressure on the government to listen to the concerns being raised, a partial victory was achieved when former secretary of state for education Nicky Morgan announced the introduction of the National Funding Formula for April 2017.
The victory was snatched away when Mrs Morgan’s successor, Justine Greening, postponed the new system for a year.
As a result, the fight turned solely to the issue of interim funding, which was now even more vital as schools found themselves trying to stretch their already whip-thin budgets one year longer.
While grateful for the introduction of the new formula – which should prove much fairer than the current system – the headteachers told Mrs May the delay was having “a crippling effect on our already dire financial position”.
In their letter, they added: “Our ability to run our schools effectively and in the way that pupils and their families deserve is now severely compromised.”
The letter contained an “urgent request” to the Prime Minister asking for £20million of transitional funding – £200 per pupil.
While that figure may appear high, it represents only half of the money that would be required to bring West Sussex’s funding up to the national average.
Explaining the schools’ financial predicament, the letter stated: “Schools in our authority have tried to ‘soak up’ such funding differentials but over time our budgets and provision have suffered.
“We have no more reserves and ‘no more fat to trim’. The introduction of increased school contributions to national insurance and pension costs have made a bad situation become acute.
“Schools are struggling to function adequately on a day-to-day basis and in addition, we are severely hampered in our ability to recruit and retain staff, work with reasonable teacher/pupil ratios and to buy basic equipment.”
The letter also said that, while extra money would not fully address the funding issue, it would ensure “drastic measures” heads were being forced to consider could be avoided.
They included reducing school hours, increasing class sizes, not replacing staff when they leave, and looking at redundancy options.
Despite the seriousness of these measures, heads reported their campaign had “universal support” from parents and pupils.
Their use of social media saw more than 22,000 people showing their support on Facebook, while a petition launched by parent Tim Haines on the petition.parliament.uk website has been signed by almost 15,000 people.
West Sussex MPs intend to keep the campaign at the centre of attention for as long as possible.
A joint statement issued through the office of Sir Nicholas Soames, said a meeting with Justine Greening had been arranged for November 2 “in order that we may further press our concerns and those of our constituents”.
They also plan to seek a Parliamentary debate on the issue and would “continue to push hard for transitional funding and for the successful introduction of the new national formula which will – not before time – make a real difference to our schools.”
How much worse off are West Sussex schools?
West Sussex funding per pupil is £4,198 per year – £402 per pupil less than the national average and £1,800 per pupil less than the average London borough.
This means children in West Sussex are funded £44million less per year than the ‘average’ and £200million less than the ‘average’ London borough.
Over the past five years, therefore, London children have, on average, received £1billionn more funding than their counterparts in West Sussex.
A small infant or primary school of 250 pupils receives £100,000 less than an ‘average school’ of the same size while the difference rises to £600,000 for a secondary school of 1,500 pupils in West Sussex, when compared to the national average.
West Sussex special schools are equally disadvantaged to the tune of £4,054 per pupil less funding than the national average, which equates to a 22 per cent reduction in budgets compared to special schools elsewhere in the country.
To support the campaign, log on to Facebook.
To sign the e-petition on the Parliament website, log on to Parliament website.
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